Industry » Features » "Now is the Time for Change": Jenny Matthews on Diversity in Yachting

"Now is the Time for Change": Jenny Matthews on Diversity in Yachting

If you work in the superyacht industry, you will have heard the name Jenny Matthews. A chief officer and co-founder of She of the Sea and Legasea, Jenny is no stranger to the obstacles faced by those who don’t fit the traditional narrative of what it means to be a yachtie.

She of the Sea – now an industry resource group amplifying, connecting and supporting women in male dominated roles - was born in 2018 following Jenny’s realisation that even though she had spent nearly a decade in the industry, she had never once worked with another female in the deck department. A natural evolution of the journey, Legasea stands as the industry’s social impact platform, hosting programmes such as the first industry-wide mentoring programme, the Pledge and various research projects.

Hot on the heels of her presentation at this year’s Superyacht Investor London 2022 conference, where she shared recent research findings highlighting the importance of diversity, sustainability and crew wellbeing, Jenny discusses their vision and how they plan to effect real and lasting change across the sector.

Where is the industry right now in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion?

You only have to look around to see that we have serious representation issues and to look at turnover, crew wellbeing and the talent shortage to see we have a long road ahead of us. This is reflected in our initial annual report.

When Natasha and I started She of the Sea in 2018, conversations around race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economical background were not really happening in the open in the superyacht industry. It’s being talked about so much more now and the conversation is now evolving to who is going to get out in front and who will be left behind, which will be determined by who takes action and who waits. Whether organisations get left behind or not will 100 per cent depend on how deeply they understand these topics, experiences and the data. We will witness a separation in the market over the coming years.

Jenny Matthews 1200x630 4

There are strong elements of social conditioning and inherently biased systems in place; conscious and unconscious biases are everywhere. I myself have deeply ingrained unconscious biases, these include women and the queer community, both of which I am part of it, simply because of the world we grow up in. We have to unpick this ourselves and it takes constant work, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. I’ll probably be horrified by the things I’m doing now in 10 years' time, but we have to start somewhere.

Let’s start by recapping She of the Sea and why you started Legasea. What are you hoping to achieve with these?

She of the Sea happened very organically. I was 28, had never worked with another female, and I just wanted some friends I could talk to about the same things. From there I realised there were a lot of shared challenges, desires and visions for the industry as well as our own careers, and that’s where She of the Sea started to grow from. From the feedback we get now, the impact of giving a voice to that community and supporting that community has been career-changing for the women that we are talking to. People of all genders support and are involved in our work and it's amazing to see this challenge be such a unifying force across the industry.

True to what we ask the industry to do, we are also on our own learning journey and found that while gender is of course a top priority, there are many other demographics and interlinked challenges that are all symptoms of one overarching issue. Gender, race, orientation, age, socio-economical background, mental health, career development, engagement etc - these elements all come together under our social impact. This is the impact we have on our people, how we treat each other, and the systems in place. Experiences, cultures and frameworks. We created Legasea to stand as the industry’s social impact platform where we champion, connect, educate and take action in all these areas.

Tell us more about Legasea and what it represents...

Legasea is all about people and holds the clear vision of leaving the industry better than we found it. It’s about who we are, who we are bringing in and who we want to be in the future. If the yachting industry is going to be the best it can be, then we need all of us in it together.

Our values include collaboration, the courage to tackle the things that are scary, and the courage to say: “I didn’t tackle this in the right way. I’m sorry and I’m going to be better.” There’s a lot of bravery in what we are doing, and we ask that from the people we work with too.

Do you have access to any baseline data?

This was the first thing we looked for back in 2018, and no surprise, it is not yet industry practice to collect data for DEI monitoring purposes. That's why we embedded data collection into the Pledge, although this still has its limitations as we can only access the data that organisations who work with us volunteer, and can only use data they are collection. For example, only 37 per cent of signatories were collecting data, and only regarding two genders, so we still have no idea about areas like race, ethnicity, orientation etc. We have used this collection as a starting point and through speaking with our stakeholders and people from dominant demographics as well as those who are under-represented, we were able to piece together the landscape and create a strategy. We created programmes based on key areas of growth with both short- and long-term solutions – some that will create change straight away and others that we will build as we go.

We have specific programmes designed to support under-represented demographics, and others aimed at dominant demographics to get them on board and taking action – not just making empty promises.

People, groups and organisations do need to make their intentions and aspirations clear, but if it just stops there then it does more harm than good. This is what Legesea and our programmes are all about. Making sure that a company’s outward communication is followed up by strategy, transparency and accountability, as well as an actual plan to make their outward expressions mean something.

What motivates people to get involved with Legasea?

It’s a real mixed bag. We are working with people that care so deeply about these topics because they are either deeply impacted by it or have a loved one who has been impacted by it. That is really meaningful for us. There are others who, although they understand it’s the ethical thing to do, have been watching the outside world. They look at the data and the business case and they understand that if you’re not doing something as a business then you will be left behind. The motivation to create change and make a difference feels really present for many stakeholders we connect with- many feel now is the time for change, and we are ready.

Let’s say I’ve signed up to the Legasea Pledge and I want to follow through with some practical behaviours – what does that look like and what are you asking me to do?

One of our major learning curves came from our pledge – we thought those who joined would get excited about it and go out and do their thing and would watch the wheel begin to turn. That didn’t necessarily happen for everyone – the biggest feedback was “what are we actually doing and how can you help us to do it?”

This year, we have redesigned the entire Pledge framework and have created an onboarding, development and community hub. This enables us to embed transparency and accountability into every milestone while really cultivating the circular knowledge economy between such a diverse range of stakeholders. Ironically the cause is the cure, we aim to facilitate a diverse group, connecting in an inclusive environment, united by a strong sense of purpose and belonging, resulting in the release of our collective intelligence to solve these issues. It's a year-long membership which includes not only essential requirements to achieve signatory status, but also provides practical elements to support signatories on their journey. This looks like a comprehensive report into the current state of their organisation including quantitative and qualitative insights into the lived experience of the workforce. It includes monthly workshops on common barriers such as visual and verbal representation, policy and practice, unconscious bias and data collection frameworks. These will be sessions where everyone can share, learn from each other and really light the fire underneath meaningful change.

Turning to diversity among crew, do you think some candidates just don’t apply or are they not being put forward by recruiters?

There are two points I want to touch on here. Firstly, are people from underrepresented groups not being offered the jobs? Or are they aware this is even an industry that's available to them? Or are they being offered the jobs and then leaving because they face discrimination?

I would hazard a guess that all of these elements are very present but to ensure that the action being taken is meaningful, we need to really drill down on the nuances of the barriers being faced. Once we understand this, we can define the problem and develop a solution. That’s why we have a huge focus on research. Just like that amazing Einstein quote: If he had an hour to solve a problem he'd spend 55 mins defining it and would only need five to solve it.

I do get a little frustrated when people say: “There’s nothing we can do, it's coming from the owners.” Of course, this is present on a small number of boats, but assuming or not challenging an owner's preferences is a poor excuse to not look after their best interest. All the data, and common sense, tells us that diverse teams outperform, and that teams work better when they feel safe, valued, and like they belong. That when mental health and wellbeing are prioritised and our leaders are educated on how to facilitate this, not only do we provide better services, but we save a significant amount of money along the way. With the current rate of crew turnover, knowledge loss, avoidable mistakes etc, why on earth would we wait for the owners to turn around and ask us what's happening here? It's our job to be proactive, to solve the problems and anticipate their needs before they even know they have one, why would this be any different?

Jenny Matthews 1200x630 3

Do you think many captains have this conversation with their owners?

There are many that absolutely do. There are owners I have come into contact with who are genuinely surprised we are having this conversation, while there are others who don’t want to discuss it at all. But I think yachting needs to stop using the status quo as an excuse. We can’t keep blaming it on the owners because everyone has been talking about this for years. The next generation simply isn’t going to put up with it anymore, and that’s already happening.

There’s also nothing wrong with having representation from a dominant demographic, but there is something wrong with it being the only representation.

None of this is diminishing the achievements, hard work and passion of the people in the dominant demographic, but it can’t be at the expense of everyone else. Everyone needs to work together for a common goal.

Does opening the conversation to a collective of -isms make it more powerful, especially for those who are resistant to the realities of sexism or racism?

Yes, definitely. That’s why we have Legasea, which holds all our social impact programmes for all stakeholders together. We also signpost to the many specific groups that champion different demographics and issues. When you really see the big picture it's almost impossible to disregard it. We dive into this in our latest talk.

Any final thoughts?

One thing that is important and can sometimes be misunderstood is managing expectations. While there are things we can address right now that will impact the lives of underrepresented demographics and create a ripple of change, for real and meaningful change we need a long-term horizon. We can’t just click our fingers and say we want more female captains, and then magically have 30 per cent female captains. It’s going to take time for the younger generation, come in to learn, grow, and make real lasting change. This is the same for all demographics, but if we don’t start taking action now, we will eventually be driven to do so by mitigating risks and consequences. Why not take the opportunity and embrace this with passion and purpose now and reap the benefits before it’s too late.

Legasea logo

Post your comment

You cannot post comments until you have logged in.

Login to post a comment


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments



Search articles with keywords